In a recent interview with CNN, Cindy McCain was asked for her opinion on her party’s attitude toward gays. McCain had generated a great deal of attention in 2010 due to her participation in the NOH8 campaign for marriage equality, and has come to be seen as a supporter of LGBT rights, despite the fact that she later said she stood by her husband and his position against repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his Senate re-election campaign that year.
But when asked about her party’s opposition to gay rights, McCain dismissed it, saying, “I disagree with that. I think the media portrays that. I think being a Republican, being part of the party for — as many years as I have and knowing the Republicans the way I do that is not the case and that’s not the bulk of Republicans that believe in that, at all.”
McCain insisted that most Republicans in her state actually support equality for gays and are opposed to negative campaigning on social issues, and that nationally it is a vocal minority that rails against gays. Whether or not most Republicans she knows aren’t opposed to LGBT rights, what she doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that these “vocal ones” are the Republican politicians who control the levers of power and the voters who participate in elections.
Perhaps CNN’s Erin Burnett could have pressed McCain to explain the role that the “vocal ones” and their animosity toward gays have played in her party’s presidential nomination process. In this primary season, we’ve seen a Republican audience boo at an active duty American soldier when he revealed that he is gay via YouTube. We’ve seen Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaign explicitly against the fact that gays and lesbians are now allowed to serve openly in the military. We’ve seen a run for the nomination by Rep. Michele Bachmann, a candidate who co-owns, with her husband, a family-counseling clinic that uses reparative therapy techniques and promotes the “ex-gay” cause. And we’ve seen a race where most of the leading candidates have signed the National Organization for Marriage’s anti-gay marriage pledge, which included a promise to investigate “harassment” of traditional marriage supporters.
Outside of the presidential race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last month vetoed a bill that would have allowed for marriage equality in his state, amid speculation that he is aiming for a chance at the vice presidential slot on a Republican ticket. These are just a few examples from the past year of anti-gay politicians acting as the face of the party’s mainstream.
It is wishful thinking on the part of Republicans like Cindy McCain to say that social issues, including anti-gay sentiment, are not driving the agenda of their party. By blaming the media, McCain is participating in the same cynical strategies undertaken by her party’s presidential candidates, and by Tea Party figures like Sarah Palin. At this point, campaigning against the media has become almost as institutional to the Republican Party platform as the anti-gay positions that she claims are insignificant. The media cannot be blamed for discussing what these politicians believe, and similarly, McCain’s statement that the Republican Party’s anti-gay policies are media hype has no basis in reality.
It is one thing to participate in a flashy photo campaign, but in politics, words and actions matter. If Cindy McCain truly believes in fighting for equality for LGBT people, she shouldn’t be dismissive of homophobia in her party and treat it as a media exaggeration.
She should be willing to call out members of her own party who campaign on denying gay people their rights. Support for an issue doesn’t count if it’s the kind of support that happens off the record among friends, as criticism aimed at the media instead of politicians, or voiced only when there isn’t an election happening.
It is true that there are people in the Republican Party who have come to support LGBT rights, particularly young people. But the unpopularity of the issue among the party’s base makes it especially crucial that these young Republicans have role models to demonstrate that it is OK for them to press for what they believe in. Homophobia in the Republican Party is real, and simply blaming the media isn’t going to make it go away.
Sean Cotter is a New York-based freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.